Article first published as Zuckerberg’s $100 Million Donation Isn’t Just About PR on Technorati.

Less than 24 hours have passed since Forbes released its annual list of the 400 richest Americans, but that hasn’t stopped the flurry of web buzz over the finding that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has surpassed Steve Jobs in personal wealth.

At 26, Zuckerberg’s net worth is estimated at $6.9 billion, placing him at number 35 on the list. Compare that to Jobs whose $6.1 billion places him number 42. Clearly it’s a sign of the apocalypse. Start building shelters and stocking up on supplies. We have no time! On second thought, just relax.

Zuckerberg is the CEO people love to hate. He’s built one of the most successful companies in the world, changed the way we communicate, given us a platform that keeps us better connected and informed, and he isn’t charging us a dime. But hey, he’s young, wealthy, and if Hollywood’s depiction of him is to be believed, he’s also a close personal friend of the devil.

Even the recent announcement that he’s donating $100 million to help Newark public schools is being dismissed as nothing more than a perfectly timed publicity stunt that coincides with the release of The Social Network.

Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe it is just an attempt to polish his public image ahead of the release. Only he (and possibly his PR team) knows his motives.

Then again, maybe Zuckerberg is just a nice guy who, like the many who came before him, appreciates his obligation to give back to those less fortunate. That’s more than can be said of Jobs who’s not exactly known for his philanthropic nature. Maybe he should take a page from Zuckerberg on this one.

Would we be so quick to dismiss Zuckerberg’s philanthropy if he signed on to something with a little more star power? Something like, say, The Giving Pledge? Now that would have been a PR move.

Tying his name to something associated with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett (numbers one and two on the Forbes list respectively) would have certainly gained him more publicity. However, I don’t think his primary motive here was to soften his public image. I really don’t. I think, maybe he just cares. I know that’s a tough one for some people to swallow.

Honestly, can we cut him some slack? Maybe even, dare I say it, applaud him? I think Zuckerberg deserves some much-needed credit. The cynics can say all they want.

Just a thought.